Introducing the Healthy Food and Community Change Initiative

by Rick Luftglass & Pamela Koch


The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund has committed $15 million to the Healthy Food and Community Change initiative over the next five years. To celebrate and announce this initiative, Teachers College and the Illumination Fund hosted a conference, Bringing Policy to the Table: New Strategies for a Healthier Society at Teachers College on February 14.  Elected officials, academics, philanthropists, and other leaders engaged in lively discussions about food system issues, including obesity, diet-related diseases, jobs, urban agriculture, and community development.  To watch videos and learn more about the conference, go to


The intellectual hub of this new initiative is the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Policy & Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. The Center will work in communities that have programs such as NYC Green Cart Initiative, Farmers’ Markets, and Healthy Bodegas in order to evaluate what kinds of educational messages will get more people to choose these healthier options. According to evidence from the field of nutrition education, when people are motivated, that is they believe that healthy eating is really worth it, and have skills such as how to grow food, select healthy options, and how to cook, they are more likely to make health promoting food choices. For example, the Illumination Fund’s NYC Green Cart Fresh Food Pack helps to make the vegetables and fruits sold at the Green Carts seem enticing through the photos and descriptions, and the recipes help people build their cooking confidence. Similarly, the Stellar Farmers Market program has cooking demonstrations at farmers markets where shoppers can use Health Bucks to get $7 of produce for $5 of SNAP benefits, again building the essential ingredients of motivation and skills.


Dr. Isobel Contento, who has written the only textbook on nutrition education and is a leader in pushing for theory-based and behavioral nutrition education is the Faculty Sponsor of the Center. The Executive Director of the Center is Dr. Pam Koch, who has extensive experience working in New York City on projects and programs on education, particularly education about the food system, and policy and system change initiatives. Koch said, “one of our initial areas is to better understand the food and nutrition education that New York City children are receiving.” This will determine the extent of the education and overall how nutrition education programs are changing what children eat.


City Council Speaker Christine Quinn discussed progress from the Council’s FoodWorks: A Vision to Improve NYC’s Food System and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer spoke about his plan Food NYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System to “require a food curriculum in public schools” and “expose city students to farms and gardens.” The new center at Teachers College will produce results to help elected officials develop policies that will make the recommendations into a reality for all New York City children in all neighborhoods.  According to Koch, “educating children — and their families — about food can serve as a springboard for communities to become places where healthy food choices are easy and desired.”  Newark Mayor Cory Booker also spoke about initiatives in his city and insights he gained from going on a “SNAP Diet.” 


Rick Luftglass, Executive Director of the Illumination Fund, presented the Healthy Food and Community Change initiative and shared the process to develop and link the grants in order to create strategies that will improve access to healthy foods and have a lasting impact through influencing policies and programming in the future. The other initial grantees are: Wholesome Wave, which will expand the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program to New York City, in partnership with the City’s Health and Hospital Corporation; Local Initiatives Support Corporation New York City (LISC NYC), to develop Communities for Healthy Food NYC in partnership with a network of community development corporations; and City Harvest, which will use the grant to expand their evidence-based Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative.


For more information about the Healthy Food and Community Change initiative, see and for more information about the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy contact Pam Koch at